are all sorts of construction signs, but no apparent
construction as I walk alongside her. She’s
talking about her new roof, saying something along
the lines of “I don’t know how them Mexicans
got it done when all they ever seemed to do was stand
Shut up, I tell her.
Once back home, I have work to do my damn self. Turns out I’m guest-editing
a certain website and I need to find, among other things, a film to feature.
My guide had led me to the Internet Archive at archive.org, where thousands of
films are available for download thanks to being in the public domain. Talk radio’s
playing in the background—something about an upcoming strike—so I
keyword ‘strike’ and am delivered to the utterly beautiful “Salt
Of The Earth (1954),” a feature-length independent film produced by the
International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers which tells the true story
of one partaken by Mexican-American workers living in a small, company-owned
town. I’m surprised even further when, after a court order has been issued
that prevents the men from picketing and thus opening up the possibility for
them to be replaced with ‘scabs,’ the women take their place in line.
Unsurprisingly, the film was made by the considerable pool of talent created
There’s a newspaper at my feet all the while. LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES
AGREE: Immigration Reform Necessary, one headline reads. So many roofs in need
I type ‘Capitalism,’ and as a result find a charming cartoon titled “Make
Mine Freedom (1948).” In it a snake-oil salesman speaks to a group of men—a
worker, a manufacturer, a farmer and a politician, saying that his bottle of “Ism
will cure any ailment of the body politic, will make the weather even perfect
everyday.” Understandably, the assembly is intrigued—enough so to
get them to willingly sign away their freedom and that of their children’s—until
another on-looker, John Q. Public, convinces each to try Dr. Utopia’s tonic.
Subsequently, they are plunged into their respective nightmares: the worker becomes
clenched in the State’s iron fist, for instance, while the politician’s
head becomes replaced by a phonograph that states “Everything is fine” repeatedly.
Like most films on the archive, the context provided is equally illuminating.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded by the former chairman of General Motors
and anxious to spread the news about capital-ism, funded the “staunchly
anti-Communist Harding College to produce nine short cartoons which would portray
simple economic truths about the American system of production in an interesting
and entertaining manner.” But, as this anonymous writer points out, although
the film purports to be a relaxed, humorous explanation of how our economy works,
it employs a ‘stealth’ strategy that sought to discredit anti-capitalist
ideas. “Apparently,” he later points out wryly, “John Q. Public
didn’t believe in the First Amendment” as the good doctor is chased
away by a barrage of his own bottles.
I keyword ‘Cold War’ next and notice a film titled “Don’t
Be A Sucker (1947).” Not wanting to be one any longer, I can’t help
but watch. Made by the U.S. War Department no less, I’m surprised to hear
it preach tolerance and inclusion. Was this film, with its Hungarian-American
character proclaiming “America is minorities, and that means you and me,” the
product of a different, more innocent time? Of course not, the last frame proves,
for it reads “THIS FILM WILL NOT BE SHOWN TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC WITHOUT
PERMISSION FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT.”
As one reviewer put it, the film was merely made to put a stop to racism in the
military and its message should only be given out on a need-to-know basis.
I’m feeling dirty now, so I type in ‘Bush’ next. And for the
same reason that most comics probably voted for him, I’m glad in some sense
of the word that he’s still there. For it takes me to where else but “Despotism,” a
1946 Encyclopedia Britannica Film that illustrates the thesis that all communities
can be ranged on a scale running from democracy to despotism, and offers a number
of indicators by which the degree of democracy or despotism can be measured....
Restricted Respect? Check.
Concentrated Power? Check.
Slanted Economic Distribution? Well, let me check my pockets. America two dollars
and twentyseven cents April 17, 2006....
Strict control of the agencies of communication? Not here, online, not yet....
It’s anniversary time in Cincinnati, so ‘Race Relations’ is
up next. Wherein I’m transported to “Detroit: City on the Move (1965),” which
in that year was named by the U.S. as their hopeful bid for the 1968 Olympic
games. The film is a white-washed attempt to paint the city in a favorable light;
despite the fact that 300,000 people less lived in Detroit in 1965 than in 1950,
despite the fact that it’s true ethnic make-up is clearly obscured in the
promo. The city’s desperation is all but palpable in this and its follow-up, “The
Detroit You Never Met,” made in response to certain allegations that it
was no longer solvent and couldn’t deliver the Olympics.
In 1965, despite the pictures, African-Americans made up 35% of Detroit’s
In 1966, gold-medalist Muhammad Ali was stripped of both his boxing title and
license after being convicted of draft evasion. Filing as a conscientious objector
on grounds of religion, he famously stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel
with the Vietcong... No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”
In 1967, after five days of rioting, 43 Detroiters lay dead, 1189 were injured,
and over 7000 arrests had been made.
In 1968, the Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall became the first-ever Olympic drug
disqualification, having tested positive for excessive alcohol.... in Mexico
And in 2006, I’m walking past one new stadium on my way to the other, past
the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which has recently disclosed
budgetary shortfalls and is asking for city assistance. The guy next to me thumbs
his nose at its edifice, says “Make a prison out of it, I’m sure
they’d come then” as we pass yet another construction sign with no
The threads, however frayed, are there nonetheless. As is the question posed
long ago: Can we destroy the Master’s house with his own tools?
This while the answer seems all too slow in coming....